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Chapter 23 : THE 16th TO THE 18th CENTURY CE

The late Islamic period was an age of empires, when the Muslim world was governed by three powerful dynasties: the Safavids in Iran; the Mughals in India; and the Ottomans, in Anatolia, the Arab lands, and much of eastern Europe.

Although the Ottomans already controlled all of Anatolia and parts of eastern Europe prior to 1453 CE when they conqured Constantinople ( thereafter Istanbul ) and made it their capital, the 16th century was the Ottoman golden age. The Mamluk empire fell to them in 1517 CE and by the middle of the 16th century Ottoman control extended from central Europe to the Indian Ocean. This empire reached the peak of its military and political potency under Sulayman the Magnificent ( r. 1520-66 ), whose armies advanced as far west as Vienna. To Sulayman's reign also belong some of the most important achievements of Ottoman architecture, particularly the enormous and incomparable mosques and religious foundations that he built in Istanbul.

Ottoman power began to weaken however, in the century following Sulayman's death and for the first time, the Ottoman army experienced large-scale military defeat at the hands of the Europeans, whose military and economic power continued to overwhelm them in the 18th century. The Ottoman empire was finally dismantled following their defeat in World War I, with only Anatolia remaining under Turkish rule.

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Towards the east, Iran was being united in the early 16th century under the rule of the Safavid dynasty, whose members traced their descent to Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardibili (d.735 AH / 1334 CE), a Sufi who founded a dervish order at Ardabil in the north west. The young and charismatic Isma’il Safavi wrestled control in 1501 CE from the Aq Quyunlu and was proclaimed the first Safavid Shah. Isma'il made Tabriz his capital and established Shi’ite Islam as the official religion of the Safavid state which comprised merely of the province of Azerbaijan. A decade later, however, all of Iran was under Safavid control.

The greatest of the Safavid rulers was Shah ‘Abbas (r.1587-1629 CE), who inherited a kingdom beset by political, financial and military troubles. As part of his political and fiscal reforms, ‘Abbas transferred his capital to Isfahan, in southern Iran, where he built a new city adjoining the old one. ‘Abbas also advocated trade with Europe, to which Iran exported silk, along with carpets, textiles and ceramics. Under ‘Abbas, Iran reached new heights of power, prosperity, and opulence and although his successors failed to match his achievements, they continued his traditions for another century, until the fall of the Safavid dynasty in 1732 CE.




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